Success often has as much or more to do with people's thoughts and actions as it does their abilities. I noticed this in academics, business, and sports before becoming a teacher, and tried to convince students of this after becoming a teacher. One way I did this was by telling them that success comes from the heart. I even came up with an acronym where each letter in heart represented a belief or work habit common among successful people: hope, effort, attitude, resourcefulness, and teamwork--which I posted in my classroom as an equation:
Success = Hope + Effort + Attitude + Resourcefulness + Teamwork
Pretty inspirational, right? Wrong. The problem with pitching rhetoric like this at urban youth is that they're more likely to find it infuriating than inspiring. Once, in fact, as I delivered my "you too can go to college and be successful" speech, a student stood up and yelled, "F--- you!"
My HEART acronym never riled students quite like that, but it didn't inspire them either. And really, how could any saying that included the word "hope" have inspired my students? Students who, as one boy put it, "see a dead body at least once a week." Students who, for reason upon tragic reason, saw life as a short-term venture and thus had little or no capacity for envisioning any future, let alone a bright one.
No, hope for disadvantaged black teens would never come from a privileged white former business executive preaching optimism. Not this one anyway. Nor would students put forth more effort or adopt a winning attitude just because I was there exhorting them to do so. Same goes for resourcefulness and teamwork.
In short, it wasn't enough for me to espouse keys to success. Students would have to experience them. I, therefore, would have to create a classroom where my actions, more so than my words, helped students make connections between what they believed and did (or didn't believe and didn't do) and the results they got (or didn't get). In other words, see personal success (and failure) as something they had more control over than I or other influences did.
In this respect, even though it was never inspirational for my students, HEART was indeed transformational for me as a teacher. In particular, it provided me a framework for developing classroom policies and practices that promoted self-serving behaviors in students rather than self-defeating ones (see my last post, Education Reform Key: Stop Enabling Students' Self-Defeating Behavior).
I've shared some of those policies and practices in previous posts, and will share more in future ones. Policies and practices you may want to take to heart--especially if, like me, you believe we as educators must teach students what it takes to be successful in order for them to be successful.
Image by Yobro10, provided by Dreamstime license
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